Pedagogy Beyond Punching Nazis

[HU] Az Európa szerte aggasztó mértékben erősödő szélsőjobb mozgalmak és pártok régi-új kihívások elé állítják az antifasiszta ellenállást. Az aktivizmus szintjén egyre inkább a gyűlöletbeszéd társadalmi konzekvenciáinak és „költségeinek” növelése jellemzi az ellenállás logikáját (lásd például a Richard Spencer, amerikai szélsőjobboldali propagandistának odasózó antifasiszta aktivistát). Azonban az oktatásnak nyilvánvalóan az ellenállás egészen más formáira kellene támaszkodnia, és az is nyilvánvaló, hogy kellene, minthogy a szélsőjobb diskurzusrendszere nemcsak beszivárog az iskolai életvilágokba, hanem az ettől függetlenül is egy igencsak pedagógiai jellegű probléma. Ebben az írásban azt szeretném felvázolni, hogy az ideológiakritika miképp képes támogatni a pedagógiát a szélsőjobboldal elleni küzdelemben, ugyanis az ideológiakritika nem csak önmagában a szélsőjobb narratíváival kritikus, hanem arra is rámutat, hogy milyen – gyakran rendszerszintű – társadalmi problémákra ad választ a szélsőjobb diskurzusrendszere.

Europe is threatened by disintegration. The dispersion of neo-fascist and far-right discourses (frequently articulated by figures like Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Donald Trump, Viktor Orbán, Jarosław Kaczyński, etc.) are having horrifying success in the re-articulation of the current historical bloc characterized by dislocation, disintegration and the crisis of democracy. The hegemonic formation that seemed to represent a temporary fixity of (pseudo-)democratic values and neoliberal capitalism, is being subverted by old-new social antagonisms. Are you aware for instance of the dirty, disgusting propaganda of the post-fascist Hungarian government [1]; that they’ve just brought the anti-Semitic motive of the “puppeteer” back, printed on large posters? [2]

The direction of this emerging hegemonic project is not determined, but unfortunately the common experience is that the ‘bureaucratic field of the new Centaur state tilts rightward‘ as Loïc Wacquant put it. So I suppose, that the purpose of education and the role of teachers has to be radically reassessed and reformulated, by considering the ever deeper penetration of the far-right imaginary into the social.

We all might know terrifying instances of the consequences of the re-emerging (neo-)fascist discourse, so let me highlight one shocking example, that turned me towards radical antifascism and resistance (whose long history goes back to the “Antifaschistische Kommittees,” and “Antifaschistische Aktion” in pre-war Germany – with the initial pursuit to establish a cross-party alliance between Communist and Social Democratic workers – and also to the Action Party – Partito d’Azione or Pd’A –  in Italy). In 2007, a fascist paramilitary troop was established in Hungary, called Magyar Gárda (Hungarian Guard), which started to march across the most underprivileged regions in Hungary, as wannabe gendarmes, intimidating and terrorizing Roma people. (This was continued by the Szebb Jövőt [Better Future] movement later.) But this martial circus was not enough for the hardcore of the Magyar Gárda movement, which in 2008 and 2009 started to shoot at the houses of Roma families, threw Molotov-cocktails through the windows, and killed six Roma people including two children. Another outrageous incident happened in August 2014 near a small village in northeastern Hungary, when masked men attacked the Roma laborers – just as the police officer had advised (sic!). “You’ll die, filthy gypsies! Everyone on the ground!” – they shouted before the attack, but the prosecution came to the conclusion that there is no evidence of a racially-motivated hate crime or malicious intent…

The re-emerging neo-fascist discourse is of course not specific to Hungary, far-right parties have managed to attract and accumulate more votes and legitimacy during the past decade.

Right-wing populist parties in Europe – Source: Roar Mag

Thus it might not be surprising, that I was not at all horrified when I saw on January 20, 2017 (Trump’s inauguration) that a white supremacist “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer was punched in the face by an anarchist fellow, while giving an interview in the public. However, the incident divided public opinion: while one side celebrated this form of resistance, the other camp – including some fellow teachers and researcher mates –  was firmly refusing violence, highlighting dialogue instead of brutality, emphasizing the ethical dimension of the incident, namely that if you punch a Nazi, you also become one of them and so on.

I want to acknowledge that I also refuse this kind of physical violence, and I would much more prefer pieing for example or other non-violent forms of anti-fascist resistance (see e.g. Ieshia Evans, Saffiyah Khan and Lucie Myslíková take a stand). Not to mention, that violent actions against far-right groups could end up counterproductive, since it feeds their ‘self-identification as “discriminated outsiders” or the “victims” of a decadent system.’

But I think the classical liberal attitude toward defending free speech, the right for opinion, promoting dialogue instead of violence etc. is also very misleading. Here I totally agree with Slavoj Žižek that contemporary liberalism and postmodernity are in a way responsible in normalizing the horror of neo-fascism as a democratic opinion.

Žižek argued in a recent lecture:

“We need more dogmatism [on the left]. There is a very good sense of dogmatism, which is I think one way to measure the relative progress of societies, how certain moral norms are simply dogmatically accepted. For example, I wouldn’t like to live in a society, where you have to debate again and again why women shouldn’t be raped. I want to live in a society, where this is dogmatically accepted, so that if you get some crazy guy, who says that “women really like it, they are just too hypocritical to admit it,” you don’t even argue, the guy disqualifies himself, is perceived as an idiot. When we start to debate things which should be absolutely clear, is always a critical point. We shouldn’t debate everything.”

And the logic of anti-fascist resistance is precisely in this radical refusal of classical liberalism. As an anarchist comrade, Mark Bray put it in a recent article, the logic of anti-fascist resistance is to make sure, that Nazis cannot appear uncontested in the public, to increase the social cost of hate speech, to make these people at least think about whether they would dare to articulate white supremacist ideas.

This contestation seems more and more important as the “alt-right” manages to put on unprecedented and unexpected masks, like the feminization of fascism or “lipstick fascism”, the leftist mask of the pro-working-class fascism or the mask of the trendy, young hipster fascist.

But this logic of anti-fascist resistance is very problematic when it comes to education, and I would at no price promote the same logic in pedagogy, even if it comes to public pedagogy. I assert, that in education it is better to contest far-right imaginary through the critique of ideology. Here I don’t refer to ideology as it is often used nowadays, what Jorge Larrain defined as the positive or neutral concept – namely systems of ideas, worldviews, specific to different social groups. This is I think the way we nowadays speak of neoliberal ideology, racist ideology, liberal ideology, nationalist ideology, and so on, where the critical judgement is made through another ideology. But I want to refer here to a post-Marxian understanding of ideology, which is Marxist in the sense that it refers to a mystification which sustains domination, and post-Marxian in the sense that the basis of this mystification is not ultimately and necessarily connected to the capitalist relations of production. What I try to outline is an understanding of ideology, which refers to such articulations, that conceal relations of domination by presenting them either as inevitable and necessary (e.g. women must earn less, because they are weaker), or as a right (e.g. Nazis right to have an opinion), or simply as not a domination (e.g. blaming the poor for their poverty). Thus ideology has no precise content.

So what should be a possible critique of ideology and what makes it pedagogical? Let’s take an example when students express their antipathy towards migrants, arguing that “they take our jobs” and “risk our anticipated employment chances”. Now I think one of the basic pedagogical problems is that in such situations we usually concentrate exclusively on the antipathy toward migrants, thus we organize sensitization trainings (e.g. privilege walk), dialogical circles about the Middle East crisis, touching meetings with migrant students, and so on. It is of course important, but these interpretative demystifications are difficult, precisely because an ideology analysis would reveal something more and different here.

If ideology is the mystification of domination then the identity, which mystfies domination here, is not necessary connected to the narrative of “taking the jobs”, but rather to the figure of the migrant. And the mystified domination is not necessary referring to the oppression of the Middle East, but rather to the employment chances. To put it simply, this means, that this argument mystifies how the capitalist market dominates and determines the predicament of the worker, creating the always-already uncertain and unpredictable situation of the precariat, which I suppose really is a cause for concern for the youth. As Terry Eagleton argues in ‘Ideology’, much of what ideology says is true, namely ideology always refers to something real, and in this case the fear of the uncertain future in labor market and the uncertainty in employment chances is real. And in ideology this fear is projected in a beautiful Lacanian way to an external object (l’objet petit a), the figure of the migrant. But the other side of the coin, the uncertain, precarious character of capitalist labor market, is what pedagogy also has to bring into focus. (And of course what I presented is not the only possible analysis.) This way the critique of ideology can largely support critical education, in revealing those themes, that a critical, collaborative inquiry would address. (Check out for example this project.)

Now, one can say, that I’m making a crypto-Marxist argument, preferring the Western working class instead of the crisis in the Middle East… No! There is no privileged field of the societal, and a pedagogical critique of ideology has to refer to both sides of the same coin – both the distortive entity and both the distorted domination. Take for example a slightly different interpretation, of the argument, that “they only come here to take our jobs”. The “economy” of the ideological constellation can be interpreted differently. One can say for instance, that market competition overdetermines and mystifies the domination in which people are bombed out from their homes on a daily basis. And so on. We are “eating from the same trashcan”. And the name of this trashcan is ideology.

The argument I tried to make here is that education has to react somehow to the emerging far-right, authoritarian politics and to the context it is embedded in, and a useful instrument could be ideology criticism. The critique of ideology not only addresses the problems of the far-right discourse, but also points to the contradictions on the systemic level, for which the extreme right tries to elaborate its own “answers”.[3] I have this idea, that the critical potential of schooling can be strengthened through teacher education, by unlocking the sphere of the often closed activist scenes and encouraging teachers’ active and reflective engagement with the social environment – so that the school can become an open, critical space for political contestation. But I also think it is adequate to supplement pedagogical praxis with the logic of increasing the social cost of hate speech, init…

Support your local antifa!


[1] The Jewish puppet figure has been repeatedly recaptured in Nazi propaganda. The caricature shown here for example, was published in Munich, 1942 by the Fliegende Blätter, and the subject appeared in several other posters and publications later.

[2] In the contemporary national burlesque, in the settings of the Hungarian parliamentary tragicomedy, the governing party enjoys spending public money on building the biggest fence in Europe and flooding the country with hate speech against migrants printed on large posters. The money comes from a new fiscal politics in which “the public money loses its public character,” as Lajos Kósa, executive vice president of FIDESZ, described the innovation this year.

[3] For instance, while bourgeoisie leftists try to dissolve the imperialism of centrum countries in presenting the possible decline inscribed in national values and the West as the promise of  improvement, the right wing dissolves the problem of the national oligarchy by emphasizing national values and promoting confrontation with the “real” sources of the problem: Western liberal imperialists, gypsy families and migrants.

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